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  The Life, Crime and Capture of John Wilkes Booth George Alfred Townsend

Letter II: The Obsequies In Washington

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Washington, April 19, (Evening).

The most significant and most creditable celebration ever held in Washington has just transpired. A good ruler has been followed from his home to the Capitol by a grand cortege, worthy of the memory and of the nation's power. As description must do injustice to the extent of the display, so must criticism fail to sufficiently commend its perfect tastefulness, Rarely has a Republican assemblage been so orderly. The funeral of Mr. Lincoln is something to be remembered for a cycle. It caps all eulogy upon his life and services, and was, without exception, the most representative, spontaneous, and remarkable testimonial ever rendered to the remains of an American citizen.

The night before the funeral showed the probable character of the cortege. At Willard's alone four hundred applications by telegraph for beds were refused. As many as six thousand persons spent Tuesday night in the streets, in depots and in outbuildings. The population of the city this morning was not far short of a hundred thousand, and of these as many at thirty thousand walked in procession with Mr. Lincoln's ashes.

All orders of folks were at hand. The country adjacent sent in hay-wagons, donkey-carts, dearborns. All who could slip away from the army came to town, and every attainable section of the Union forwarded mourners. At no time in his life had Mr. Lincoln so many to throng about him as in this hour, when he is powerless to do any one a service. For once in history, office-seekers were disinterested, and contractors and hangers-on human. These came, for this time only, to the capital of the republic without an axe to grind or a curiosity to subserve; respect and grief were all their motive. This day was shown that the great public heart beats unselfish and reverent, even after a dynasty of plunder and war.

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The arrangements for the funeral were made by Mr. Harrington, Assistant-Secretary of the Treasury, who was beset by applicants for tickets. The number of these were reduced to six hundred, the clergy getting sixty and the press twenty. I was among the first to pass the White House guards and enter the building.

Its freestone columns were draped in black, and all the windows were funereal. The ancient reception-room was half closed, and the famous East room, which is approached by a spacious hall, had been reserved for the obsequies. There are none present here but a few silent attendants of the late owner of the republican palace. Deeply ensconced in the white satin stuffing of his coffin, the President lies like one asleep. The broad, high, beautiful room is like the varnished interior of a vault. The frescoed ceiling wears the national shield, some pointed vases filled with flowers and fruit, and three emblazonings of gilt pendant from which are shrouded chandeliers. A purplish gray is the prevailing tint of the ceiling. The cornice is silver white, set off by a velvet crimson. The wall paper is gold and red, broken by eight lofty mirrors, which are chastely margined with black and faced with fleece.

Their imperfect surfaces reflect the lofty catafalque, an open canopy of solemn alapaca, lined with tasteful satin of creamish lead, looped at the curving roof and dropping to the four corners in half transparent tapestry. Beneath the roof, the half light shines upon a stage of fresh and fragrant flowers, up-bearing a long, high coffin. White lace of pure silver pendant from the border throws a mild shimmer upon the solid silver tracery hinges and emblazonings. A cross of lilies stands at the head, an anchor of roses at the foot. The lid is drawn back to show the face and bosom, and on the coffin top are heather, precious flowers, and sprigs of green. This catafalque, or in plain words, this coffin set upon a platform and canopied, has around it a sufficient space of Brussels carpet, and on three sides of this there are raised steps covered with black, on which the honored visitors are to stand.

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The Life, Crime and Capture of John Wilkes Booth
George Alfred Townsend

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